A Foreign Journalist in an Egyptian Jail

From Vocative, a disturbing account that hits too close to home:

I was reporting on the marchers, and not long after I gave the policemen cigarettes, a young police recruit grabbed me by the back of the neck. He slapped me on the head repeatedly as his friend took my camera from around my neck and my phone from my pocket. He marched me toward a small alley that leads off Tahrir Street, where I could see a number of other Egyptian men being penned in by some riot police.

I fumbled in my wallet for my press pass, from the Cairo Press Center. A senior member of the riot police looked at it and saw that it said “British.” He looked up at me and back down at my photo a few times before saying, in English, “I’m sorry.”

Assuming I was free to go, I asked for my phone and motioned for my pass. But I got a hefty push in the back and suddenly found myself with the other detained men. I called to a nearby police recruit and told him I was a British journalist and said there was some misunderstanding. He told me to put my hands behind my back. When I reiterated my point, he slapped me in the face.

He describes the conditions inside the police station, and though he does not appear to have been singled out for poor treatment, it was poor all the same:

The temperature in the room was rising. A 50-year-old teacher nodded his head gently against my shoulder. I turned around and saw a face of genuine sympathy, “I am sorry,” he said.

“Look,” he motioned to a corner of the room. I had completely missed a man of at least 60 crumpled in the corner. Both his legs were covered with birdshot, blood slowly pooling around his feet. I looked at the blood, and the smell immediately became unbearable.

We could hear screams from outside the door, which would open only to reveal yet another poor man being flogged for no apparent reason. The officers smiled at one another as they beat the men. They fit the stereotype of despotic state security so perfectly it would have been funny if it weren’t so depressing.

After about 90 minutes, they decided to move us—to a minuscule, enclosed courtyard in the middle of the building. Sixty people squeezed in like sardines, sweat beading off us. The tiled floors were dusty and covered in rubbish and aberrant marks of dried blood. I was pushed to my knees once again. I turned and tried to reason with my captors, but was quickly cut off by a kick to the back. “Look straight ahead!” would be the catchphrase for the rest of the evening.

I finally turned and stayed turned, covering the back of my head. I noticed that everyone else was in exactly the same position.

This was by far the most painful part of the day. Kneeling for close to three hours, crammed so closely together there wasn’t space for me to put my hands on the floor to help shift my weight.

It does turn out ok in the end, at least for him and a few others:

Around 10 p.m., about six hours after I was arrested, we were suddenly asked to stand up. I almost collapsed as my knees. Leaning on the man in front of me, I steadied myself and we filed out of the room and upstairs. We were told to line up in front of a notice board. I read the yellowed certificates and newspaper clippings trumpeting the police station’s valiant work of the past decades.

Again, we were pulled aside, one by one, and our details recorded. I stayed there silently while they sorted us into two groups, one with around 12 men and the other with closer to 50. Everyone looked exhausted, the blood on their shirts now that dull brown color.

After some paperwork and backslapping, the policemen sent the larger group back downstairs. The smaller group and I were free to leave.

I wonder what it would have been like in an American jail? Surely nowhere is the experience pleasant, and perhaps six hours is a rather fast processing.

In either setting, I hope I never have to find out. Comfort, comfort, for all who do.

What's your opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s